I worked with a young executive. Everything was going extremely well for his organization. But like any good leader, he would regularly do his SWOT analysis and he had identified threat looming on the horizon.
No big deal. He picked out the threat two years in advance. He had plenty of time to prepare.
Here's the kicker: he was the only person in his organization who perceived the threat. The rest of his team was content with the status quo and saw no reason to adapt.
[P]eople will rise to a challenge if it’s their challenge. They won’t necessarily rise to your challenge.
– Wayne Smith, Former Assistant Coach of World Champion New Zealand All Blacks
This is when leaders distinguish themselves from managers. Systems, risk, processes - things - can be managed with ruthless efficiency. People need to be led. Personnel who are managed seldom reach their full poteintial, find less purpose in their work, and are generally less productive.
Adaptive leadership can start with a Dual-Management approach: making high-level planning, strategy, and decision-making a collaboration with subordinates. Dual-Management is a tremendous leap of faith. It requires a leader to both place absolute trust in their staff and open up their own ideas to critique.
When a leader and their staff are on the same page, this model produces eye-popping results. Because employees see problems and processes from different angles, this approach produces better feedback loops that paint a more complete picture of the status quo. Greater decision-making transparency allows employees to be more trusting of their processes and committed to their work. By allowing staff members to contribute in a meaningful way, they feel a greater sense of ownership. This leads to greater accountability and responsibility in their day-to-day work. It also gives employees a greater sense of purpose in their work. In turn, productivity increases, overhead decreases, and the office tends to operate more cohesively.
If leadership and staff are on the same page, Dual-Management is a no brainer. But what about in the case above? What if your challenge is not their challenge?
Trusting staff in this moment is difficult but also paramount. Leaders will feel a strong urge to shift into management mode and make the changes necessary to prepare for the threat. But by moving forward unilaterally, they risk disenfranchising their team and loose the benefit of their robust feedback loops. They become more suceptible to blindspots.
I convinced the young leader to double-down on his Dual-Management approach. His first challenge was to help his staff see the threat. This was a time-consuming process of teaching, communicating and clarifying, and creating space for his staff to draw their own conclusions once they saw the full picture. It required a healthy dose of patience from the leader.
In the end, his staff finally saw the threat - though they perceived it to a lesser magnitude than the leader. Everyone agreed to conservative change measures. While the leader was not wholly satisfied with the scale of the changes - wanting more - they were sufficient to preserve the organization when the perceived threat hit. He also embraced that he hired each member of his team for a reason. If his team was not convinced this was a major threat, he trusted their judgement and valued their involvement in his feedback loops.
Leading through challenging times requires robust professional skills. The young leader observed that he thought he had robust communication skills before they were submitted to this vigorous stress test. Becoming an effective leader requires ongoing commitment to your development. L M Thomas Group is launching NextPeak leadership development services to help leaders continuously grow over time. If you would like to learn more, visit MyNextPeak.com and sign up to find out more!